Eyes Wide Open: A Somber Visit to the COPE Visitor Center in Vientiane, Laos

I mentioned earlier that I would throw all caution to the wind if Laos was a man I could marry.

More than a month after my trip to the country ended, I’m still feeling its positive effects. To push the marriage analogy further though, I strongly believe in knowing a person’s history, the dark and the beautiful, before entering into something serious.

Laos has a disturbing tale to tell that began with the Vietnam War. The country of my heart and head, the United States, played a huge role in writing this horror story. I’ve heard bits and pieces of it as I traveled the region: land ordinances, civilians, death, and disfigurement.

I could turn away to more pleasant topics, but I’ve decided that at least sometimes I need to look with my eyes wide open. As a result, I visited the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE). After visiting the center, I posted this on Instagram:

Soooo…I've been in this position before…been an American overseas reckoning with the devastation we recklessly left behind in the name of peace and democracy. I saw this in Cambodia, Vietnam, and now Laos. I am not a pacifist. What we did to Laos though is unacceptable. Laos is the most heavily bombed country in the world (more than all bombs dropped in WWII were dropped on Laos), thanks in large part to the US. The sheer lack of respect shown to the people living there who were NOT a part of the official Vietnam war is disgusting. We drop our "extra" bombs while flying over Laos (and Cambodia!) after bombing the Vietnamese supply lines because, allegedly, it's too dangerous to land a plane with all of that still on it. It's not too dangerous to kill and maim unsuspecting people? Decades later, these ordnances still kill and injure people. COPE (Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise) provides artificial limbs, wheelchairs, and rehabilitation to the affected. The US has no moral authority in the world right now, but we damn sure have a moral incentive to clean up this mess. One theory for why Laos isn't as developed as it should be is because the bombs have not been cleared from the land. Would you want to build where potential cluster bombs are? If ever in Laos, COPE is a necessary center to visit. Donations are welcome too. In my bio is a link to my thoughts on the Vietnam War/American War Museum in Ho Chi Minh.

A post shared by withapurpose (@immigratingwithapurpose) on

Even today, whenever I walk on uneven ground (which is very common in Jakarta) I think about how people who’ve lost a leg have to relearn how to maintain their balance on such terrain. I also think about Laos’ position as one of the world’s Least Developed Countries and  how unexploded ordnances impede such development.

The COPE center was sobering, to say the least. However, when writing about travel I  think it’s important to discuss more than beaches & delicious meals. My passport gives me visa-free access to the majority of the world’s countries. At what cost to other parts of the globe did my country reach its apex though? As I plan my last stops before moving home for good, I can’t help thinking about this very question.

When I do, I think of Laos.



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